In her new memoir, “The Education of an Idealist,” Samantha Power charts her evolution from outsider to insider, as her career takes her from reporting on war-torn Yugoslavia to advising President Obama on foreign policy. Power is best known as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017 but she also won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” A professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School, Power lives with her husband and two children in Concord. She speaks with CNN analyst David Gergen at 7 p.m. on Monday at the First Parish Church in Cambridge. Tickets for the event, which is sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, are $8 (or $32 with a copy of the book).
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
POWER: On the plane to our vacation in Ireland I read George Packer’s memoir “Blood of the Liberals,” which had been on my list forever. Now I’m toggling between two books, which I never do. I’m a one-book-at-a-time girl. I’m reading Colm Tóibín’s “Nora Webster,” which is the book I planned to read. He is my absolute favorite novelist but I had never read this one. Then I saw that my husband, who reads more than anyone I know, had added Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Say Nothing” (about the Troubles in North Ireland) to our Kindle account. Oh my god, it’s like the best of thrillers, but it’s real.
BOOKS: Are you a regular reader of memoirs?
POWER: Not really other than Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and Eli Wiesel’s “Night,” which I read in my twenties. To write my own book I read Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club,” Mary McCarthy’s “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood,” and Frank Conroy’s “Stop-Time.” I also went back to one of my favorite books, Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.” There’s a passage about how in Ireland people communicate love but don’t express it. That unlocked a great mystery of my childhood. When I moved to America as a kid, everyone said it so much it seemed saccharine. My editor recommended I read Andre Agassi’s “Open.” Years ago, my mother and my maid of my honor had recommended it but I wasn’t interested. It is so unusually good. You feel like you are living his life.
BOOKS: What biographies of heads of state would you recommend?
POWER: Back when I was a war correspondent in Yugoslavia I read biographies of Tito, which wouldn’t do much for me anymore. When I became a diplomat, which was not a natural trajectory for my career, I read John Lewis Gaddis’s wonderful book on George Kennan, Niall Ferguson’s book on Henry Kissinger. I also read Madeleine Albright’s wonderful book, which was full of humor and self-deprecation.
BOOKS: Did you have time to read when you were working at the U.N. or in the White House?
POWER: I couldn’t read then like I read now. I also had my children right after I went into government. I started listening to books when I was exercising. I listened to most of Toni Morrison. I started doing laps and got an underwater iPod. I still do a ton of my reading while I swim.
BOOKS: Have there been other pivotal books for you?
POWER: There were important books in my Yugoslav development: Mark Thompson’s “A Paper House,” Brian Hall’s “The Impossible Country,” and then Laura Silber and Allan Little’s “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation.” All us correspondents read memoirs by our friends like Chuck Sudetic’s “Blood and Vengeance.” At the same time we were carrying around the Bosnian novelist Ivo Andrić’s “The Bridge on the River Drina,” Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop.”
BOOKS: What is your most recent discovery?
POWER: I recently began reading the Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She sees the individuality in these people who have been forgotten: children of war, Soviet women who fought on the front lines, people obliterated by history.
BOOKS: What is on your upcoming pile?
POWER: David Plouffe’s new book, “A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump,” which he is still writing. He was the statistician and strategist behind Obama’s presidential campaigns. I pre-ordered it. I’m waiting by my Kindle.